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Seattle Teachers Reach Tentative Agreement With District After Strike


A weeklong teacher strike in Seattle may be coming to an end. The teachers and the city's public school district have reached a tentative contract agreement. The district's lead negotiator, Geoff Miller, says talks went all night.

GEOFF MILLER: We reached a deal at ten to 7 this morning. My face shows it. We pushed ourselves as hard as we could to get a deal so we could get kids back to school, and that's why we stayed as long as we did.

SIEGEL: The strike has delayed the start of the school year. Now students could be back in class before the end of the week. For more, we turn to education reporter Kyle Stokes with member station KPLU in Seattle. And Kyle, remind us why teachers went on strike in the first place.

KYLE STOKES, BYLINE: There were a bunch of issues that the Seattle Public School teachers brought to the table, but among the biggest speaking points where the two sides couldn't agree on - by how much to increase teachers' salary. And then there was also this added complication in the salary discussion. The district had a proposal to lengthen the school day by an extra 20 minutes. It came up rather late in the bargaining process, and the teachers' union (unintelligible) a little bit blindsided by it. And initially, they thought it was a nonstarter. That was what really contributed to the teachers going on strike last week.

SIEGEL: Now, this is a tentative agreement still. What, if anything, do you know about the terms of it?

STOKES: Yeah, Robert. These just came out not long ago here. The district - it looks like the district's raises, something a little bit closer to the district's numbers on teacher raises. The teachers have tentatively agreed to that. This is all pending a wider leadership vote, by the way. But in the meantime, the teachers here have voted to suspend the strike and allow students to go back to school.

But closer to the district's numbers on salary - the longer school day - the increased instructional time for students is a part of the tentative agreement. But there are some big wins for the union as well. They're counting a big win among - the teachers' evaluation system is going to change. There's a big change that they were looking for there. They finally have enforceable caseloads for the therapists and school counselors that they say were drastically overworked.

And one big issues that parents had brought to the table was recess time. The union, as part of its contract, has a guaranteed 30 minutes of recess time for students, something, they say, you're not going to find anywhere else. And that's - they're counting that as a huge win to have that guarantee.

SIEGEL: Kyle, how many people have been affected by this school strike in Seattle?

STOKES: It's been quite a huge strike here in Seattle. Fifty-five-hundred teachers, union members - that's teachers as well as other school employees - have been on the picket lines this week. And then the district enrolls 53,000 students, so that's thousands of families that are trying to figure out how to care for these children while school is out of session for nearly a week here.

SIEGEL: As you said, the teachers who are on strike had cited some concerns for parents. What's been the reaction from parents to this strike?

STOKES: I think you can say it's been surreal on the parents' part. A lot of parents - obviously, there's the natural frustration that comes with having to get childcare for the children in the strike. But at the same time, a lot of parents were also very sympathetic to the teachers' arguments. We saw a lot of parents who were out walking picket lines. Today, there was a huge teacher march - rather, parents, I should say - a march of parents that marched down to the district headquarters to show their support to the teachers as well - so a lot of jubilation on their part.

SIEGEL: That's Kyle Stokes who covers education for member station KPLU in Seattle. Kyle, thanks.

STOKES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools forKPLU.